Canaan, CT – Stress Awareness Month this April will likely resonate with Americans on a more personal level after they have endured a year characterized by pandemic-related concerns, political divisions, and economic turmoil. According to the American Psychological Association, 78 percent of Americans cite COVID-19 as a major stressor in their lives, and approximately one-fifth say that their mental health has deteriorated compared to the previous year.
Those who have been impacted should know that coronavirus-related stress is common, even among therapists. Heather LaCasse, LMSW, Clinician at Mountainside treatment center, says, “For me, managing my stress and anxiety during this pandemic has really started with being honest with myself, recognizing and acknowledging that I am experiencing stress and anxiety, and normalizing it for myself. Of course, I am anxious given the current world affairs and the vast unknowns; how could I not be? That acknowledgment, followed by the permission I have given myself to feel whatever I feel, however I feel it, has been monumental for me.”
Some stress is to be expected, but individuals should be mindful that ongoing anxiety and uncertainty can have negative health outcomes, including, but not limited to:
- Weakened immune system
- High blood pressure
- Difficulty sleeping
- Increased substance use
To prevent outcomes such as these, especially as the pandemic persists, LaCasse shares some coping strategies that she personally implements. She first advises practicing healthy boundaries, which involves communicating personal needs with others, and can enrich interpersonal relationships by promoting respect and comfort. For example, family and friends may want to discuss complex issues after being exposed to seemingly endless news cycles related to the coronavirus. LaCasse recommends that if a person starts feeling emotionally or mentally exhausted by the subject matter, they should ask to change the topic in order to prevent additional stress.
In addition to communicating openly with others, gratitude can likewise help combat excess tension. A 2018 journal study defines gratitude as “the appreciation of a gift received,” with the researchers finding that gratitude is positively correlated with greater levels of happiness and hope for the future. Gratitude can be expressed in a variety of ways, from verbally thanking others to keeping a positivity journal.
LaCasse explains that, “Reflecting on what I am grateful for each day keeps me focused on all the things I am currently blessed to have in my life, instead of focusing on what I am missing because of the changes we have all had to incorporate to maintain safety and health.”